Tonight the Anaheim Ducks take on their biggest challenge of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs — they face the Nashville Predators in Game 6 off the Western Conference Final. As Ducks fans remember all too vividly, the Predators won a close Game 5 on Sunday at the Honda Center. Fans will also remember the Ducks went seven games against the Chicago Blackhawks two years ago in the Western Conference Final, losing in a close game 7 on their home ice.
Ducks Captain Ryan Getzlaf and his team are looking to avoid a repeat of that season, but to do it they have to win at the Bridgestone Arena tonight in Game 6.
The Predators had an emotional win on Sunday, led by their goalie Pekka Rinne and the “gutsy” play of rookie Pontus Åberg, who broke a 1-1 tie in the third period, after taking a faceplent on the ice that cost him a tooth.
All five games in this series have been close, despite the score in Game 2. The Predators are a deep team, as they proved Sunday. Their defensemen will join on rushes, making the Anaheim defense work much harder than it has in the previous two series Anaheim played this year.
The Ducks are no slouches though. In Game 5 of their series with the Edmonton Oilers, they came from behind — in the last three minutes of regulation — to tie the game at 3-3 and send it to overtime. Winger Corey Perry finished the game with his goal, giving Anaheim the lead in that series.
To win Game 5 both teams will need every player suited up to play at the top of their game. The Ducks could be without their #1 goalie John Gibson, who sustained a lower body injury Sunday and was replaced by Jonathan Bernier. Both played well, Nashville’s final score was an empty net goal by Austin Watson.
The Ducks offense must be in place to take advantage of rebounds, which was evident in Game 5, as in they missed some great opportunities in all three periods that could have changed the course of the game. The Predators missed some scoring opportunities as well.
More important the Ducks will need to contain their emotions and stay out of the penalty box, especially for major penalties that keep players off the ice for five or ten minutes. And the Ducks need to win the special teams game — the game within the game, according to Ducks coach Randy Carlyle. “The next game’s the biggest one. If we lose the special teams battle in it then your chances of success go down greatly. That’s the game within the game,” he said after Game 5. “ You always have to feel that you’re going to give yourself the best chance by winning that game within the game.”
Colin Wilson scored on a power play in Game 5 to tie the game. The Ducks didn’t have any power play goals. Neither team had a power play goal in Game 4 and in Game 2 both teams scored on the power play. It’s a good bet that whichever team wins the game within the game — that includes penalty kills and short-handed goals — is going to win tonight.
For the Anaheim Ducks that means they live to play one more time on their home ice for a chance to move onto the Stanley Cup Final, ten years after they last won the Cup. For the Nashville Predators winning tonight punches their ticket to the next round, which would be their first Conference Championship and their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Expect both teams to be motivated tonight.
Below is Claudia Gestro’s video report from Game 5.
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UPDATE: The game ended with two empty net goals for the Nashville Predators, who will now advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in Franchise history. Despite being out shot by the Anaheim Ducks 41-18, the Predators found a way to win.
Anaheim controlled the puck for much of the game, but they gave up two early goals in the first period, the first by Austin Watson and the second by Colton Sissons, who would go on to score a Hat Trick in the game.
Ondrej Kase put the Ducks on the board in the second period, and then Sissons scored his second goal to start the final period. But Anaheim turned up their intensity in the third, keeping Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne busy. Chris Wagner and Cam Fowler scored for the Ducks to tie the game, but Sisson scored his Hat Trick goal to put Nashville ahead once again.
With the score 4-3 Ducks coach brought his goalie, Jonathan Bernier, out of the net to give his team an offensive edge, but that allowed two empty net goals by Filip Forsberg and Austin Watson to seal the win for the Predators.
This is the second time in three years the Ducks have made it to the Western Conference Final. They have the talent to go all the way and win another Stanley Cup, but what held them back, especially in this series, was their special teams play. They had some good looks while on the power play, but failed to score.
This was a hard-hitting series throughout and both teams had players unable to play due to injury. The Ducks lost their goalie John Gibson for this game.
The Stanley Cup Final begins on Monday (May 29) and like they have throughout these playoffs, the Predators will start on the road. They were the #8 seed in the Western Conference. The last 8th seed team to win the Stanley Cup were the Los Angeles Kings in 2012.
The reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to close out their series with the Senators in Ottawa Tuesday in their Game 6.
Photos by Claudia Gestro
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